Are you leaving for studies in America? If so, you're probably awash in a mixture of worry and excitement.
Will you find your niche? How will professors and classmates respond to you?
What resources can you use to prepare before you leave? Is success likely in such a new environment?
Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Students and new media professor at Columbia Journalism School, thrived in US higher education. He seamlessly transitioned from student to professor to dean of students, and is now a house-hold name in American academics.
Sree's increasing fame has earned him numerous awards. Most notably, in March 2004, Newsweek listed him as one of the 20 most influential South Asians in the US.
Thankfully, and despite his growing reputation, Sree has not forgotten his roots. He took time to sit down and answer some of rediff.com's questions for the benefit of Indian students leaving for US studies.
When did you first become interested in education as a career?
I didn't really plan on becoming a professor. I wanted to be a full-time journalist -- which I had been before coming to the US for the second time in 1992. I first came to NYC as a nine year old and stayed till I was 13.
But when I graduated from Columbia, I was offered a teaching fellowship. I loved working with the students, so I decided to stay for 'only one more year.' In 2008, it will be 15 years.
I have a lot of teachers in my family, including two grandparents who taught at primary schools, my father, who taught for a year before he became a diplomat and my mother, who is a Bharata Natyam teacher. I guess I have it in my blood.
What are the most common problems Indian students in USA face?
Indian students on the whole do very well in the US. They do face initial adjustment issues (home sickness, making new friends, adjusting to new foods), especially those who do not come from the big metros. But there are plenty of resources to help you adjust and get used to a new life in America.
Do you go out of your way to interact with Indian students, being of Indian descent yourself?
I know how tough it can be for desis to adjust, so I make it a point to connect with as many Indian students as possible. I speak desi oriented events around the US and I love interacting with my fellow desis.
How can Indian students prepare before they leave home?
Spend lots of time at EduPass.org - especially the "living in the USA" section -- http://www.edupass.org/
Also, work on your English -- even if you studied in English-medium schools and topped your English literature course, you'll still need to adjust to American English. A fun way to learn about Americanisms ('fall' instead of 'autumn' 'apartment' instead of 'flat' and 'elevator' instead of 'lift') is the English to American Dictionary at http://english2american.com/
Start becoming a consumer of the US press. Visit NYTimes.com every day to get a sense of the big topics that are affecting Americans. But also be sure to read the local paper in the city in which you will be studying. A good collection of such papers, state-by-state, is here -- http://www.newslink.org/statnews.html
And your college will almost definitely have a newspaper/news site -- and you should start reading it right away. A good starting list is here -- http://www.studyworld.com/college_newspapers_online.htm -- but you can also
find your college paper by going to your school's main site.
Another way to prepare is to listen to National Public Radio, the terrific radio network filled with news, music and other programming. It's a nice way to get to know about America and its people. You can listen live or to archives at http://www.npr.org/
Don't forget blogs, which can be a great way to learn about the US I read several with desi perspectives every day, including SepiaMutiny.com, UltraBrown.com and Uberdesi.com -- these are basically second-generation desis and a nice introduction to desi America. Now, a plug for something I run, SAJAforum.org -- a blog that covers a lot of
topics -- from the serious to the silly. It's a good starting point for staying informed.
How can an Indian student best stay in touch with his or her family/roots/heritage?
Make sure you are in close touch with your family via e-mail or phone calls. Create a YahooGroups account for all your family members with e-mail and send out regular updates. Calls have become much cheaper. I use minutes I purchase through RelianceIndiaCall.com - but you can also use Skype.com to make free computer-to-computer calls and very cheap computer-to-land or mobine line calls anywhere in the world.
A more practical question, is Indian food readily available?
It depends on which city you are in. Most towns of even medium size have at least one Indian restaurant, but very few are likely to be near your campus. Many Indian students I know do their own cooking (Indian groceries will likely be hard to come by, so consider bringing some of your favorite masalas and pickles).
Should students live on campus or off-campus?
One of the best things about a US undergraduate education is experiencing a campus atmosphere. Therefore, I think it's really important for undergraduates to live on campus. For graduate students, this doesn't hold as true.
How important are the relationships at US universities? By this, I mean, between student and counsellor, student and advisor and student and professor?
These relationships are absolutely critical. In other countries, including in India, you never visit the dean's office (or equivalent) unless you are in trouble or need something urgent. So when international students come to the US, they are reluctant to seek out folks in positions of authority.
My American students are always dropping by, asking questions and seeking help -- it's part of the US culture of expecting 'customer service' in everything, including education. But my students from India rarely come by on their own -- so I have to seek them out.
Please be sure to use the campus resources. Through tution fees, you're actually paying for them. Plus, that's why administrators get paid -- to help you.